Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ruth Symes talks about having a Diverse Career

Books by Ruth Symes

At the Professional Series meeting on Thursday 24th April, Ruth Louise Symes came to speak to us about having a diverse career. She was a highly entertaining and enthusiastic speaker and I was totally in awe of her.

Ruth always dreamed of being a writer with the freedom to travel all over the world and write. The turning point in her life was when she was teaching children with special needs in Singapore and sold her house back in the UK. She realised she now had money to do what she wanted, so decided to go to Australia and Tasmania.

Whilst she was there she wrote a story called Ivy’s Xmas Carol, about a girl who could not sing. Her first big break was when Lion Books wanted to publish her story in a Christmas anthology. This was a big boost to her confidence. She then entered a competition run by Australian women’s magazine Womans Day. She came third, which was another big boost.

Unfortunately, when she returned back to the UK she found out the anthology was no longer going to be published.

Ruth decided to go on a week’s course at Middlesex University, where authors spoke about how they got published. She entered the course’s writing competition at the end of the week and won a subscription to Writer’s News. Then she went on an Arvon Foundation course. She wrote an 8,000 word story encouraged by one of the course tutors, Hugh Scott. The story was runner up in the Peter Pook opening to an adult novel competition.

Up to now she had been writing these stories with no editing. She saw an advert for a talk run by the newly set up Children’s Writers’ Advice Centre. She went on to this and Louise Jordan mentioned that Puffin was looking for stories of 2,500 words. So Ruth wrote a story of 2,500 words and sent it to Louise, who passed it on to one of the editors at Puffin. The editor at the time, Lucy Ogden rang her and said she didn’t want it but, took her out to lunch and asked her to write some more. She spent a year writing 2,500 word stories but none of them were quite right.

Ruth sent one of her longer stories to Louise Jordan, who again passed it on to Lucy but she was told she had to get rid of her first chapter. That was her first and best experience of a re-write. She then wrote some books for the Rigby Heinemann reading scheme, who published Twelfth Floor Kids. Around the same time she thought she better get an agent and sent some work to Maggie Noach, who got back to her within the week.

Maggie negotiated a good deal with Rigby Heinemann. She got several more books published with different publishers and she went on an enterprise scheme to teach authors how to go into schools.

Since then she has branched out into script writing. UCLA ran an Open University course which meant getting up at 3am. She worked on the course leaning to write scripts with one-to-one tuition for no money. She is always doing courses to extend her knowledge. She has done some writing for an animation company, which she got through the Writer’s Guild and filmed a documentary which won her a place at Cannes last year.

Ruth works on a range of stuff always writing something. She likes to keep a lot of things going in case a job falls through. She has had several knock backs but the rejections have never stopped her.

I agree whole heartedly that writers should have several writing projects on the go and stuff waiting in the pipelines. It keeps your name out there and gets you known. Hopefully, I am following Ruth's advice as I am currently writing a series of features for Writers' Forum on research techniques by a variety of well-known authors and working on a couple of teacher resources for Hopscotch, an imprint of the Mark Allen Group, as well as continuing to update and make various websites.

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